Russia’s Alpha Group compared to the Delta Force is a good and comparable unit in the domain of training, but in organizational and operational comparison, we need to dive into the world of special operations forces to explain the differences and to bring a conclusion.
The Russian unit colloquially known as Alpha Group (formally it’s Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center) was created as a counter-terrorism unit in 1974. The Soviet government was planning the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and didn’t want anything like the 1972 Munich massacre.
Therefore, the KGB was tasked with creating the appropriate security envelope around the Olympics. Since then, Alpha remains the most elite counter-terrorism unit of Russia. The American unit most similar to Alpha is probably the FBI Hostage Rescue Team.
The United States Delta Force (formally it’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta) was created in 1977 as counter-terrorism and special reconnaissance unit, based on US Army Special Forces. Unlike Alpha Group (which is essentially a law enforcement unit, but with broader international reach), Delta is a military unit and is deployed abroad. It is also not limited to anti-terrorism / counterinsurgency operations. The Russian unit most similar to Delta Force is SSO (it’s parallel to US SOCOM as a whole, but in Russia, they don’t have distinctions between different branches).
Alpha Group vs. Delta Force
Russia’s Alpha Group is roughly on par with the US’s Delta Force. Both groups are made up of disciplined, highly-trained, experienced operators, who have proven themselves in combat. Both groups have extensive combat experience from operations in the Global War on Terror. Alpha Group saw combat in Chechnya, Syria, and a number of other undeclared operations. Likewise, Delta saw action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. Both units are highly skilled in marksmanship, CQB, and other advanced tactics.
Terms of proficiency
In terms of proficiency, it’s hard to compare. However, since both units are Tier 1 units and select only the most capable candidates, I’m convinced that operators serving in either are top-notch. In terms of technical means, I’m sure that “Alpha” is supplied with everything it needs. The same applies to Delta Force, but since it has a wider range of tasks, it’s safe to assume that they also have a wider range of equipment.
Domestic and international operations
Probably the only major difference is that Alpha has a domestic mandate. They are tasked with handling all counter-terrorism operations on Russian soil as well as internationally. Whereas Delta handles missions almost exclusively outside the US. As a result, Delta is probably slightly better at infiltration tactics. That being said, Alpha has a small political wing, much like the CIA’s PAG that is just the best in the business. Let’s put it this way: you hear about them all the time, but you never hear about them.
Alpha military status
The operatives are not military officers, but they are not police officers either. In Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is independent of the police and its employees have their own ranks, separate from the police. For example, the current head of “Alpha” Mr. Kanakin is the Major General of FSB. All alpha operatives are officers of FSB, subordinate within their own structure, and independent from both the army and the police. The FSB has its own dress uniform and its own insignia.
Conclusion: Alpha Group compared to the Delta Force
How is Russia’s Alpha Group compared to the Delta Force? Well, the final verdict should be that these are units of different types, intended for different applications, but still very similar even it doesn’t look at the first hand. Today, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team probably has a lot of overlap with Alpha, not least of which from the fact that it draws membership and training tactics from the US JSOC (SEALs, Delta, Special Forces, 24th STS, DEVGRU), but because of its niche mission. But the teams that are most comparable in training would be Delta Force and DEVGRU (SEAL Team 6).